In conversation with Qadir Niazi, a Qawwal from Delhi

Qadir Niazi hails from the family of traditional Musical Gharana ‘Hapur Gharana’ that has traditionally enjoyed the patronage of Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. His ancestors Ustad Kubre Mohammad Khan, Ustad Shaadi Khan and Ustad Murad Khan were court musicians and were linked to the Dhrupad Gharana and the Nizamudin Dargah. Even the accompany musicians of Qadir Niazi belong to various traditional Gharanas. Marriages in these families are guarded within the Gharana itself.

Qadir Niazi is trained by his late father Ustad Inam Ahmed Khan who has been awarded the title “Qawwali Samrat” by late president of India, Shri Giani Zail singh and also “Mehboob Ragi” by the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad.

Besides performing in the Dargah every Thursday, he also performs in private parties and concerts. He is recently performing for Blue frog’s ‘soulful Sundays’.

Qadir Niazi along with his two sons Asim Haider and Amir Hasan has travelled worldwide and performed qawwali. He performed in many countries like U.K., Scotland, New Zealand, Singapore, Jeddah, Riyadh (kingdom of Saudi Arabia), Muscat, Oman, Iran, Tanzania and recently in Afghanistan.

It was pleasure sharing his thoughts on Qawwali. Sitting with him in his traditional home, Qadir Niazi talks about his life as a Qawwal and his experiences.

Q. Please share with me your families association with Delhi? Have you always lived in this area of Delhi?
Our families association with Delhi is age-old. Though we belong to the Hapur Gharana (Meerut, U.P) but the relation with Delhi, dates back to the Mughal times. Infact the house we live in, in Chandini Mahal was a haveli gifted by Bahadur Shah to Ustad Murad Khan, one of our ancestors. And since then it has been a family heritage.

Q. What does it mean to be a qawwali singer in the present scenario in Delhi? Do you think Qawwali has evolved/changed?
Certainly it has! The earlier ‘ethics’ of qawwali have undergone lots of changes. Earlier Qawwali was confined to singing it in the Dargah and royal courts, qawwali was a music to lift ones spirit and unite ones soul with God. People sat with devotion in their mind to listen to qawwali. While now, Qawwali has shifted its base to concerts, pubs and clubs. People dance when they listen to Qawwali. Their demand is generally for Filmy Qawwali. Not many people want to listen or even understand the traditional compositions.
However, we continue to sing Naat, Manqabat, and the traditional Qalam in the Dargah.

Q. How do you feel performing Qawwali in a concert as opposed to original context i.e playing in Dargah?
When we sing in the Dargah we sing it solely for Hazrat Sahab (Nizamuddin) and sing the compositions of Amir Khusro, Naat and Manqabat. While in our programs we play according to the vein of the audience.
Though singing in the Dargah and singing in a concert or in a pub marks a stark contrast. But our purpose of Qawwali remains the same, i.e. to satisfy the listeners.

Q. What do you have to say about qawwali in temples and in churches?
The place is not important; the connection of qawwali is to the heart. Be it a Dargah, a mandir or a pub, my job is to connect to the hearts of the people’. I have also sung Bhajans and qawwali in Mandirs. The bhajan I sang ‘tore bina’ (a devotional song for Lord Krishna) has been liked by many.

Q. Will you give any credit to Bollywood, for popularizing qawwali? Was the popularity negative or positive?
Definitely the film industry has done a lot in putting qawwali back on stage. Infact, anything works in the industry, provided you get a grip of the taste of the audience’. I like to play whatever makes the listeners happy. Most popular demands even outside the country comes for Filmy songs like ‘khwaja mere khwaja’ from Jodha Akbar.
I have myself sung ‘intezaar Aitbaar’ from khosla ka ghosla, Jiya Haun and chali haun.

Q. Do you think, you have received the due recognition by Delhi government? What do you have to say about ASI’s efforts to revive Qawwali in Nizamuddin Basti, Delhi?
As qawwali artist we have never got any recognition or any sort of support. There should be some recognition for all artists.
As for The project of Aga Khan and ASI, it has been doing its best to put qawwali and qawwali artist to the fore. Infact I have myself done several recordings for the project.

Q. Do you think Delhi audience still appreciates Indian Classical music?
Yes, Ofcourse they do! Delhi is a hub of talented people who appreciate Music in its various shades.

Q. Are you teaching students? Do you want the family heritage to continue?
I have 2-3 students who visit me on a regular basis. However, there is time-constraint and the meet depends on my program schedule. I would love to teach more people, but I am handicapped by my unpredictable routine. I have taught my sons the art of qawwali gayaki. And I am proud of the way they are carrying it forward.

Q. Have you performed abroad? How was the experience?
We have performed in numerous countries like- U.K, Scotland, New Zealand, Singapore, Mecca Sharif, Medina Sharif, Jeddah, Riyadh, Muscat, Oman, Iran, Tanzania, Afghanistan, Egypt and still others. And we have got an extremely positive response from all these places. We have performed in many countries, but the zeal to play in home country is the most rewarding. We are able to connect with the masses more strongly.

Q. What is the place of women Qawwal in the present context? Are there any girls in your family lineage who are singing or learning qawwali?
Qawwali can be sung by anyone, male-female boundaries don’t define it. The place of any Qawwal depends on a person’s talent. Infact Chanchal Bharti was the shagird (student) of my father. However, as far as my family is concerned, no female singer has ever sung qawwali from our gharana, nor will they ever sing in the future. In our tradition women remain in veil, and no male outside of family are suppose to either see them, or hear them’.

Q. Can you share with me something about your accompany musicians? Are they also from traditional father to son lineage?
All the musicians are related to various gharanas that are related to the Nizamuddin Dargah. (And we marry within the gharanas itself.)

Q. What kind of audience do you like playing to?
We like playing anywhere, where people appreciate us. For an artist the happiness and claps of audience is what is important.

Q. Delhi audience, esp. the young crowd is crazy. How do you like when the crowd starts dancing and singing along to Qawwali?
I really love it. Infact when the larger audience is youth, we try and cater to them instead of the elder’s.

Qawwals in Delhi
Niazi and Nizami Brothers
Qadir Niazi, Haider, Hasan, Imran Niazi
698, Chandni Mahal, Darya Ganj,
New Delhi
Phone: 9899127495
Mobile: 9811304403

Haji Mohd Idris and Mohd Ilyas
House No. 1061, Ward No.7,
Near Darga Sharif, Mehrauli
New Delhi
Phone: 91 9990155456 (Haji Mohd. Idris)
Mobile: +91 9810668768